Putting Pen to Paper Helps Manage Stress

Sundararajan, however, developed a comprehensive language analysis program and took another look at Graybeal's data. What she found, she says, is that both groups continued to process their thoughts on divorce, but they did so differently.

By analyzing words and phrases and syntax, and other indexes of mental processing, Sundararajan found that the participants who wrote about time management continued to dwell subconsciously on their parents' divorce. She found patterns and words, for example, that indicated the participants were still struggling with their emotions.

"They were still processing their emotions without realizing they were doing it," she says.

Primed for Recovery

But the other group, writing expressively about divorce, let it all hang out. They were, as Sundararajan says, "spilling their guts."

So while both groups showed similar results in terms of reduced stress, there was a profound difference in what really happened, she adds.

Those who wrote about divorce were able to back off and reflect on their circumstances. In other words, they were better equipped to deal with it.

But those who wrote about time management continued to dwell on their problems (even though they didn't know it) and thus never stepped back.

"That's not good for you," Sundararajan says, because the wounds remained untreated.

Writing, on the other hand, forced the participants to deal openly with their concerns, and then begin putting them into perspective.

"They were able to step back and not be completely carried away by their trouble," she says.

They were better "primed," as she puts it, for recovery.

Lee Dye's column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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